Last Sunday, at First Congregational Flagstaff, several members shared memories and anecdotes concerning their baptisms. One recalled being baptized as an adult in a beautiful river beside red-rock cliffs in Sedona. A middle-aged man shared that his earliest memory in life is his baptism as an infant!
Wherever you were baptized, and however it was done, it is good to ponder its ongoing reality in your life. Like faith itself, the memory and interpretation of the happening may be more important than what occurred in the past.
We commonly think of baptism in its most obvious significance—that of washing away our impurities. That’s certainly an important and abiding perspective; “Repent and be baptized…for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38). At the same time, there is another Scriptural tradition that might point us in additional directions, regarding the significance of our baptism. Each year in the lectionary cycle, at the start of each new year, we commemorate the baptism of Jesus, and we are called to recall our own baptism. Yet the baptism of Jesus points to something more than forgiveness of sins. In classical Christian theology, Jesus was without sin. Or, in more contemporary terms, Jesus possessed a perfect God-consciousness. Unlike us, Jesus had no need for a ritual of cleansing moral impurities. So what does Jesus’s baptism mean, and what does it mean for us?
In the mid-seventh century an Irish scholar wrote a treatise titled On the Miracles of Holy Scripture. It’s a unique work, seemingly ahead of its time. Covering a huge array of Bible miracles, the author sought to point out that God never works in violation of nature’s laws. By portraying the harmony between miracles and natural order, this author makes Scriptural wonders feasible to a scientific mind while also elevating the ‘miraculous’ aspects of everyday natural events.
Referring to Jesus’s baptism the writer reverses our normal understanding: normally we think of water as cleansing the baptizee (as a normal bath would do). Yet Jesus was in no need of cleansing. Rather, the waters required redemption, because they are held within the confines of the earth, and the earth was cursed by humanity’s fall, as indicated in chapter 3 of Genesis. So Jesus’s baptism had a reverse effect–the baptized One gloriously refreshed polluted creation.
Could you think of your own baptism as being a similar event? Has God not called all believers to labor for the good of all creation–not just for humans, but for all beings and the earth itself?
At Jesus’s baptism he hears a voice from heaven: “You are my child, whom I dearly love: in you I find happiness.” It might be a stretch for you to believe this, but God no doubt said the same thing at your baptism. Our self-doubts, or our lack of awareness, probably prevented us from hearing that loving affirmation—but it was there. Ponder your own baptism vows for a moment. Imagine God saying those same words to you. How does it make you feel?
Jesus, knowing how much God found happiness in him, went forth from his baptism to begin healing the world. You had the same experience! So as you recall your baptism, consider how God has called you to live as a dearly beloved child, and how you can work with God to cleanse our polluted earth.